In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. It was a significant step forward for equality and inclusion, providing legal protection to people living with disabilities. For example, the ADA required ramps for public buildings to provide wheelchair users increased access. Beyond the ADA’s explicit intent, many of us today also benefit from the law, as parents pushing strollers or carrying babies, students on bicycles, senior citizens, and those temporarily injured also use the ramps. For meaningful change in the way we deliver services, we should view diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility as a primary criteria of mission success, rather than additional compliance.
Reluctance and Shame
Equity requires removing the factors of shame that cause reluctance. A key factor for shame comes from the social stigma of receiving government assistance. Many social programs have been caught in a misinformed narrative that accuses recipients of fraudulence and individual failure. To illustrate the point, only 40% of Americans trust the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, while the most trusted programs like Medicare, Social Security, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program still only report 57%, 55%, and 52% in trustworthiness, respectively. And despite the harmful narratives around the food assistance, the reality is that only 0.0014% of SNAP recipients commit fraud.
Likewise, the last thing anyone wants to do during an emotionally vulnerable time, such as losing your job, home or approaching retirement, is to start a government application. Even without the stigma, reluctance may occur from anxiety caused by unfamiliarity, distrust, and unpredictability. Though not all life events are negative, unclear directions or information can make even a routine encounter, such as enrolling into school or requesting a passport, daunting to begin.
The World Health Organization reported that anxiety and depression spiked 25% in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the U.S., this means that about one in five adults suffer from an anxiety-related disorder. For example, some states are going through a “Medicaid Unwinding,” when they must communicate to recipients the potential loss of, or changes to, their Medicaid and CHIP access. This would be a prime example of when governments should include content in their rollout strategies that focuses on alleviating potential anxiety — by offering helpful information, actively combating reluctance, and being mindful of their communications’ tone.
Communication Reduces Unseen Customer Burden
In our everyday lives, we’ve come to rely heavily on multichannel communications to guide our service journey in the form of a phone call, text, or email. Government should find ways to bring the same type of peace of mind that our dentist may give us with a text-to-confirm appointment, or that event hosts might send to remind about a dress code. Proactive and empathetic communications can serve to remove psychological barriers that may prevent an individual or family from rejecting assistance programs that provide education, financial aid, food, shelter, and healthcare.
Applying Communications Metrics for Service Delivery
Using metrics like engagement, which measures interaction, can help eliminate the customers’ onus to find out which services are available to them. Metrics can help ensure that government speaks to all its intended audiences. Programs have many ways to accomplish engagement, including:
- Prominently displaying information on government websites
- Sending personalized, relevant email or text messages that speak to the community
- Segmenting and targeting messages to their intended recipients
- Using Plain English
- Having a dedicated call center where people can get information about available programs
- Posting information in community centers, schools, etc.
Leading change to remove such barriers requires empathy — seeing life experiences through another person’s eyes, understanding and being sensitive to the hindrances they encounter, and thoughtfully designing approaches for avoiding or alleviating any adverse effects. Maturing government service delivery experience must include the responsibility to design services with empathetic communications that proactively combat shame and reluctance.
Government also could see measurable improvements in access and usage through targeted digital messaging.
With built-in measures of success for DEIA, communications strategies executed across the public’s preferred communications channels can deliver empathy at scale by acknowledging and addressing a variety of accessibility barriers people may experience, including language preferences, physical disabilities, time availability, or lack of access to transportation, as examples.
With one-to-one messaging designed to anticipate people’s needs, guiding them through complex applications processes, sending reminders about next steps or deadlines, government communications can be designed to reduce stigma, convey inclusion and build trust.
Charlotte Lee is an award-winning customer experience and human-centered design practitioner based in Washington D.C. In 2021, after 10 years of entrepreneurship, she joined Granicus as the Strategic Lead for CX and Innovation. In her work as subject matter expert in innovation and CX, she’s developed foresight from assisting senior government executives from over 15 federal agencies and Fortune 50 companies in designing, developing, and implementing their plans for digital transformation. Charlotte collaborates with government and industry executives in her capacity as the CX Community of Interest Industry Chair with the American Council of Technology – Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC.) She is driven by her own vision of a better connected, empathetic, modern, and trustworthy government service delivery for people all around the world.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.